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James shows he's game for NBA

BOSTON — BOSTON - Sometimes if you didn't know better, you would swear that LeBron James is further ahead on the basketball curve than he is letting on.

Maybe it's in the effortless way James, 18, handles the hype and attention that has been stacked at his feet like so many sneakers. Or perhaps, speaking of sneakers, it's in the way James instinctively knows how to keep his visage from appearing in front of a Reebok banner when he has been paid $90 million by Nike.

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Or maybe it's that, after weeks of workouts and summer league play, the precocious James knows he needs a break from basketball for a while, a definite sign of maturity.

"I'm looking forward to getting a vacation. I need a vacation before training camp starts in September. That's what I'm looking forward to," James said Saturday night.

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When asked where he was going for some down time, James grinned and said, "I can't tell you. You might follow me."

More to the point, it's the solid and virtually certain-to-improve quality of his game that lets you know that LeBron James is so much older than the 18 years that appears on his driver's license.

James finished up a whirlwind first two weeks as a professional last night in the closing game of the NBA summer league as his Cleveland Cavaliers lost, 80-76, to the Washington Wizards, just after the hometown Celtics played the New Jersey Nets.

If it sounds strange that a visiting team would get the nightcap game with the home team playing before, then you haven't been paying attention to the growing legend of James.

Right off the bat, James won over the pro-Celtics crowd, as the 5,000-seat Clark Athletic Center on the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus was sold out for each session the Cavaliers played.

The attention is nothing new for James, who has been the object of attention for a good part of the past two years, ever since national magazines introduced him to the American audience as a high school junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High in Akron, Ohio.

"That's kind of the easy part for me [dealing with fans]," James said. "The off-the-court things, I can handle them. I've been handling the fans and everything else that comes with basketball. That's not hard at all. I don't think any of this is hard at all. I'm just going to keep learning."

James is already adept at mastering the media. For instance, when asked if he had learned anything from the sexual assault charge facing Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, James maneuvered around the questions, declaring himself to be "behind Kobe 100 percent. That's my man," while just as quickly offering, "I don't know everything that's going on, so I can't comment on something like that."

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The on-the-court things are coming, too. James, 6 feet 8, who is Cleveland's point guard, started the week with a 25-point, nine-rebound, five-assist game in a loss to Boston on Monday.

In particular, the mid-range jumper that is said to be James' Achilles' heel occasionally betrayed him. He shot 8-for-30 in Cleveland's past two games, including 2-for-14 last night, when he missed free throws in the final minute that opened the door for Washington to come back from 15 points down to win.

"I think it [mid-range jumper] is getting better, but I have to keep working at it every day," James said. "When I get back home, I'll get in the gym and get working at it. But there are a lot of things that I have to work on and I'll be better."

Indeed, James' ability to see the floor, post up smaller players and pass were on display on more than one occasion this week.

"He's a heck of a talent," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him. He's got an NBA body and unselfishness. It seems like he'll make his teammates better. That's all for the first time. I think the next time, I might say a whole lot more about him."

The prospects of James' improving are likely frightening to his opponents, but what may be scarier is his desire to improve.

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"I think you'll repeat some mistakes, but do you learn from them?" James said. "I have learned from the mistakes that I made early on and I'm getting better."


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